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Vancomycin Resistant Enterococcus (VRE)

This information describes vancomycin resistant Enterococcus (VRE), including how it is spread and how infections are treated.

What is vancomycin resistant Enterococcus?

Enterococci are bacteria that are naturally present in your intestinal tract. Some strains of enterococci have become resistant to the antibiotic vancomycin, meaning that it cannot treat the infection. These resistant strains are referred to as vancomycin resistant Enterococcus (VRE).

VRE can cause a variety of illnesses, including:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Blood infections
  • Wound infections

What is the difference between being colonized and being infected with VRE?

A person can be either colonized or infected with VRE. If a person is colonized, it means that the bacteria is present on their skin or in a body opening, but they have no signs of illness. If a person is infected, it means that the bacteria is present on their skin or in a body opening and it is causing illness.

How is VRE spread?

VRE is spread by direct contact with an infected person's bodily fluids (blood, drainage from a wound, urine, stool, or sputum). It can also be spread by contact with equipment or surfaces that have been contaminated with the bacteria. Casual contact, such as touching or hugging, does not spread VRE.

Who is at risk for a VRE infection?

Healthy people are not at high risk for getting VRE infections. Infections occur more often in people who:

  • Are older
  • Have weakened immune systems
  • Have chronic illnesses
  • Have been treated with antibiotics in the past
  • Have had a recent surgery
  • Have had repeated or prolonged hospitalizations
  • Have open wounds or sores
  • Have tubes or drains in the body

What are the symptoms of a VRE infection?

The symptoms vary depending on the location and type of infection.

How is a VRE infection treated?

VRE infections are treated with antibiotics that are not resistant to the bacteria.

What isolation precautions are taken in the hospital if I have a VRE infection?

  • If you have been diagnosed with a VRE infection, you will be placed in a private room.
  • A sign will be posted on the door instructing all staff and visitors to take precautions.
  • All staff and visitors must clean their hands before going into and after leaving your room. They can use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • All staff and visitors who enter your room must wear a yellow gown and gloves.
  • If you leave your room for tests, you must wear a yellow gown and gloves or be covered with a clean sheet.
  • If you leave your room to walk around the unit, you must wear a yellow gown and gloves.
  • You will not be able to go to the following areas of the hospital:
    • Pantry on your unit
    • Recreation center on M15
    • Pediatric recreation areas on M9
    • Cafeteria
    • Main lobby
    • Any other public area of the hospital
  • While following these isolation precautions, you can have art or massage therapy in your room.
  • These precautions will be discontinued after you have received treatment and no longer have symptoms.

What precautions should I take at home if I have a VRE infection?

Healthy people are not at high risk for getting VRE infections. However, be sure to do the following at home:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom.
  • Wash your hands after having contact with blood, urine, or drainage from a wound.
  • Use a disinfectant such as Clorox® or Lysol® to wipe any surface that may have been contaminated with the bacteria.

Where can I get more information about VRE?

If you have any questions, talk with your doctor or nurse. You can also call (212) 639-7814 to speak with a specialist in the Infection Control Department at MSKCC.

You can also visit the following websites for more information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
New York State Department of Health